On Tuesday, Rep. Barney Frank said that "To accomplish his goals of expanding health care and other important quality of life services without ballooning the deficit," President Barack Obama had to cut the military budget. Apparently, Obama didn't get the message. The White House released its proposed budget on Thursday morning. The very first page of the Department of Defense section of the budget (PDF) proposal trumpets: "$533.7 billion for the Department of Defense base budget in 2010, a four-percent increase over 2009." (Obama's budget is for fiscal year 2010, which runs from October 1, 2009 through September 30, 2010.)

There is some good news for Frank and his cohorts. According to McClatchy, Obama may target the air force's F-22 fighter plane—a program Frank had mentioned as particularly wasteful—for cuts. (Defense Secretary Robert Gates has also criticized the program.) But even if the F-22 program is slashed, or even halted altogether, the military budget is still going up. That's a far cry from what Frank and other Congressional Dems called for on Tuesday. Will they make a fuss?

Free the Memos

In the LA Times today, the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer argues that Barack Obama should release all the confidential memos churned out over the years by George Bush's Office of Legal Counsel:

Lawyers for the office — including John Yoo, Steven Bradbury and Jay Bybee — churned out dozens of memos on torture, rendition, detention without charge and wiretapping without warrants.

....Some of the memos were plainly intended to insulate Bush administration officials from criminal liability....And, according to the Washington Post and other sources, a yet-to-be-released ethics report by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility confirms that lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel intentionally misrepresented or distorted the law to support the Bush administration's policy goals.

....Limited redactions maybe be necessary in extraordinary cases, but national security should not be used as a pretext for the wholesale suppression of the memos. And there are good reasons to release the memos now. By releasing them, the Obama administration would signal that it truly intends to end an era in which the Justice Department became shamefully complicit in the most egregious crimes. Equally important, it would allow the public to better understand the policies that defined the Bush administration and shaped history, and to understand the role that the Office of Legal Counsel played in developing, justifying and advocating those policies.

Read the whole thing.  I suspect this is an area where Obama might need to feel some significant pressure from the left to make him do the right thing.

Haves vs. Have Nots

Ezra Klein talks about the healthcare principles outlined in Obama's budget:

The salient fact about health insurance in the United States is not that 15 percent don't have it. It's that 85 percent do....That's why the first three health care principles in Obama's budget speak to the concerns of the insured: Choice, affordability, security. But In his latest column at the Kaiser Family Foundation, Drew Altman suggests a metric we should we be watching to see if they're successful. Polls, he notes, generally ask whether you think health reform will make your family better off. Kaiser recently ran one such survey and the results were moderately encouraging.

At a guess, it's the group in the center that's critical.  Supporters provide the shock troops and the opposition provides, um, the opposition.  But that big middle group that mostly thinks national healthcare is probably good for the country but isn't sure if it's good for them?  They're the ones most easily swayed by conservative scare talk.  Altman notes that these poll numbers are better than the ones Bill Clinton enjoyed in 1993, which is good, but 43% is still a huge number.  That's the battleground.

The financial crisis is even worse than people think (and people already think it's pretty bad), and we aren't doing enough to stop it, economist and Mother Jones contributor James K. Galbraith told the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday morning. From his prepared testimony:

In 1930, John Maynard Keynes wrote, "The world has been slow to realize that we are living this year in the shadow of one of the greatest economic catastrophes of modern history." That catastrophe was the Great Crash of 1929, the collapse of money values, the destruction of the banking system. The questions before us today are: is the crisis we are living through similar? And if so, are we taking adequate steps to deal with it? I believe the answers are substantially yes, and substantially no.

Galbraith pointed to six significant problems with the Obama administration's response to the financial crisis. First, he said, the White House is being way too optimistic:

Carbon Financing

The Washington Post reports on Barack Obama's plan for the revenue from his climate change plan:

As for cap-and-trade, the official said the administration believes it will generate enough money to fund a variety of priorities, including investments in renewable energy and rebates for vulnerable consumers who may struggle to pay higher energy bills if utilities pass along the cost to consumers. Obama also wants to use the money to cover the cost of extending his signature Making Work Pay tax credit, worth up to $800 a year for working families. That credit, which will cost $66 billion next year, was enacted in the stimulus package, but is set to expire at the end of 2010.

Hmmm.  That sounds like roughly $100 billion per year.  Is that reasonable?  The United States produces about 7 billion tons of CO2 equivalent a year right now, which means that Obama expects his cap-and-trade plan to generate a price of about $14 per ton in its first year — assuming it covers every single molecule of carbon emitted in the U.S.  If only half of all emissions are covered at first, it means a price closer to $28 per ton.

For comparison, the European ETS cap-and-trade plan currently prices CO2 at about 10 euros per ton.  That's roughly $13.  And that price has dropped considerably over the past few months thanks to the recession.  By 2012 it's likely to be back up in the range of $20 or more.

So at a glance, it looks like Obama's estimates are defensible.  My guess is that they're on the high side, since the initial cap will probably be fairly generous and will therefore generate a relatively low carbon price.  But as the cap goes down, the permit price should go up fairly quickly.  These numbers are at least in the right ballpark.

Generics in the Budget

This seems like good news:

Makers of generic drugs hailed a proposal in President Barack Obama's budget to set up a faster pathway for generic versions of biologic drugs, the fastest-growing segment of the pharmaceutical industry.

The budget included other steps friendly to generics makers. The administration said it wants to end "evergreening," in which brand-name makers reformulate existing products and extend the life of their market exclusivity.

The proposals on generic drugs are part of a series of spending curbs that the president is proposing, all aimed at helping to reduce costs in the health care system overall and to pay for his effort to expand coverage to all Americans.

This is a small-bore initiative.  But put enough small-bore initiatives together, and eventually you can have something pretty big.

Species Invasion: Coming June 2010

We know that invasive species are now a threat to 20 percent of the endangered vertebrates of the world. Most are invading beyond their home worlds by hitchhiking on our rides: planes, trains, cars, ships, feet. Everything from bacteria to bats is doing it. I wrote in depth about the scary lionfish invasion of the Atlantic in the Jan-Feb MoJo. New research forecasts that June 2010 is likely to be the worst invasion month ever.

Why? Because that's when temperature, humidity, and rainfall are likely to converge at many distant airports. In other words, when it's hot and humid in Miami it's also likely to be hot and humid in Shanghai. Species hitching a ride at one airport will more easily survive in the other. Add to that climate synergy the increasing traffic from India and China and we're likely to have an invasive species bloom in June 2010. Including whatever diseases the invaders are carrying... So what can we do? For a start:

  • Ramp up inspection activities at airports during the 6/10 time frame. And all other time frames.

  • Redirect at least some of the war on drugs to defending against biological invasions. Seriously, can't we put sniffer dogs and their handlers to better use?

  • Feed us in the air. Agricultural pests are invading on the foodstuffs individual travelers carry because the airlines no longer feed us. (Sometimes saving money is unbelievably costly.)

  • Consider your next flight… you know, along with the CO2 footprint... factor in the your potential as the vector of a new invasion. Is the trip worth it?

One Cool Thing About Working for Hustler

Okay, maybe I'm hyperaware of mandatory arbitration clauses because MoJo has consumer-advocate rock-star Stephanie Mencimer on staff and currently on our front page. But I couldn't help but exult a little over this sentence at the bottom of a Larry Flynt Publishing freelance contract (yes, I've done a little journalism for them. Smart, investigative vagina journalism): 

"Any dispute or claim arising out of the Letter Agreement shall be determined only by the courts in California, and therefore, you hereby agree to submit to the jurisdiction of the courts of California."

Court! How quaint! Seriously, mandatory arbitration clauses are now so standard that it's nearly impossible to buy a car, get a job, or even eat a cheeseburger without giving up your ability to sue companies that screw (!) you. But not at Hustler. Whatever my thoughts on some of Larry Flynt's politics, at least the pornographer puts his money where his litigious mouth is and lets contributors keep their right to take his whole sexy empire to court. Which is going to come in really handy when his art department photoshops some giant naked boobs onto my contributor's photo.

Representatives from the San Francisco Chronicle's employees unions met with Hearst officials to discuss possible layoffs and wage cuts today, confirms Chronicle spokesman Michael Keith. The layoffs, as I blogged earlier, are meant to offset the $50 million loss the Chronicle suffered last year. Hearst, which owns the paper, has threatened to try to sell it in the case that costs cannot be cut significantly; or close it altogether. No word yet on whether the unions have reached a deal with Hearst. "Today's meeting was just the initial discussion," says Keith. "We're not really expecting anything to come from that."

Hearst hasn't laid out any specific timeline or number of positions to be cut, but one of the unions reports that as of today, at least 50 jobs will be axed. The union also said in a statement on its site that it's discussing removing some jobs from union protection and outsourcing certain positions, among other options. Keith expects the next move is for the two employees unions to meet and discuss options jointly. 

"It's really a sign of market failure to imagine a major city like San Francisco without a daily paper," says one Chronicle staffer. The staffer is anxious about the impending layoffs, or worse: if the Chronicle closes, 1,500 people will be jobless.

The Chron need only peer north for sorry company. Hearst also owns the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which it plans to close or produce exclusively online if a buyer cannot be found by the end of March. And even if staff cuts could make up the $50 million, Hearst would still be stuck without a revenue stream. Currently, it costs $10 to produce and deliver a $2 Sunday Chronicle: yes, that's right, ten dollars. Layoffs will barely alleviate that burden, and apparently the paper is hemorrhaging money, losing $1 million a week. It'd take a lot of Extra, Extra to pull out of that hole.

Spokesman Keith says not to expect any updates to the situation soon, but if any insiders with a scoop, e-mail me at jphillips at motherjones dot com, or catch me up in the comments. Some have theorized that Hearst's threat to close the Chronicle "within weeks" is nothing more than an attempt to intimidate the unions or accomplish other nefarious corporate ends. To which I can only say, nefarious? Hearst? Definitely plausible. Other theories?

Teh Google

In his column today, Michael Gerson tells us that at a recent meeting of conservative activists, Bobby Jindal didn't talk much about personal history or social hot button issues:

Instead, he uncorked a fluent, substantive rush of policy proposals and achievements, covering workforce development, biodiesel refineries, quality assurance centers, digital media, Medicare parts C and D, and state waivers to the CMS (whatever that is).

Italics mine.  Brad DeLong snarks, "At the very least, a columnist for the Post should hide his ignorance rather than be proud of it."

But what Gerson is actually doing here is using the time honored rhetorical trope of feigned ignorance to suggest to his audience that Jindal must be some kind of rocket scientist.  This is something that I used to do occasionally too, but it's really not possible anymore and Gerson should know that.  Why?  Because the web makes research too easy.  If you Google "CMS" the very first hit is Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.  It takes five seconds.  Outside of things like live panels, it's a very 20th century affectation to showily pretend not to know this kind of stuff anymore.